Porto’s Ceuta tunnel finally opens

AFTER 10 years of prevarication, controversy, bankruptcies and litigation, Porto’s Ceuta Tunnel opened last week.

The tunnel, which starts at Praça Felipa de Lencastre and feeds into two exits – one at the Hospital of Santo António, the other at the Soares dos Reis Museum – was a story of incompetence and a catalogue of disasters from start to finish.

It was five million euros over budget, took six years longer to complete than was necessary and involved the Porto Câmara President, Rui Rio, in a court case.

Work on the 27 million euro tunnel, designed to ease traffic congestion in the city, began in 1996. The initial proposal was that it should exit in front of the Medicine Institute on the right side of the Carregal Gardens and the Soares dos Reis Museum.

This plan was opposed by the Portuguese Architectural Heritage Institute (IPPAR) because it was too close to the heritage protected Santo António Gardens, the museum and the Hospital of Santo António’s Accident and Emergency department.

In 1999, the câmara president, Nuno Cardoso, ignored the IPPAR and ordered the excavation of the tunnel’s exit, right in front of the hospital’s Accident and Emergency department, while at the same time digging the entrance in front of the Hotel Infante de Sagres.

In 2000, the project ground to a halt because the construction estimates of 22 million euros were too low and the project ran out of cash. Porto Câmara was faced with a difficult and embarrassing decision – either sack the construction company and pay legal compensation, or find the money and continue with the project.

The câmara decided to continue with the work, by extending the mouth of the tunnel away from the hospital and gardens and asked the EU for more financial help.

However, the IPPAR turned down the project, proposing that the only solution was to place the tunnel’s exit further along by the Palácio de Cristal.

For years, the Culture Ministry ordered work to be stopped and the case spent months in court until the stalemate was resolved by altering some details of the initial project. The tunnel’s exit was now 78.3 metres from the museum’s entrance and the speed limit was reduced to 30 km/h.

The tunnel was opened last week by Porto Câmara President, Rui Rio, who mentioned in his speech that it had been blighted by “many negative aspects” and hoped that nothing like that would ever happen again.